The ‘Trump Bump’ in law school admissions

October 25, 2019
President’s Message By Lori McMaster

Much discussion has occurred recently regarding the increase in law school applications since the inauguration of President Donald Trump.

Professor Michael Madison of the University of Pittsburgh School of Law follows admissions data closely. “Law school applications peaked about 20 years ago, declined gradually until 2009-2010, nosedived after that, and have now more or less stabilized – around 60,000 applicants per year today.”

Kellye Testy, President and CEO of the Law School Admissions Council (LSAC) noted that law school applicants increased 3.3 percent in 2019, which on top of the prior year’s significant applicant increase means there was an 11.6 percent increase over the last two years. “With nearly all our 2019-2020 applicant and application data accounted for, as of July 31, 2019 we’re seeing 62,427 applicants to U.S. law schools which represents a 3.3 percent increase over last year and an 11.6 percent increase over a two-year period.” Above the Law, Kathryn Rubino, ‘The Number of People Applying to Law School is Up Again this Year – Proving the Trump Bump is More than Just a Fleeting Trend’, 8/5/19. Available here.

Despite increased competition from the GRE standardized test in law school admissions, the number of LSATs administered has also risen, suggesting that the trend in increased law school applications may be continuing. Ms. Testy reports “seeing an increase of 7.3 percent in the number of LSATs administered (26.7 percent when looking at a two-year period), and a 3.2 percent increase in new test takers. Because almost all applicants begin their enrollment journey by taking the LSAT, national trends in test takers help preview the coming cycles.” Id. As of October, 2017, the number of registrations for the December exam was 21.4 percent higher than the total at the same time in 2016. In June 2017, the LSAC announced that it would be increasing its administrations of the LSAT to six times annually, up from four. In fact, between June 11, 2018, and June 3, 2019, the LSAT was given seven times. ABA Journal, Stephanie Francis Ward, ‘The Trump Bump for Law School Applicants is Real and Significant, Survey Says’, 2/22/18. Available here.

Charmaine McCall, Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid at Pitt Law, notes that, while law school applications declined 40 percent between 2010 and 2015, “Pitt Law has seen a steady rebound. We saw increases in both 2017 and 2018.”

Why the increase in law school applications? Many attribute it to the politics-driven “Trump bump.” According to a 2018 Kaplan Test Prep survey of more than 500 pre-law students, 45 percent said that “the current domestic political climate impacted their decision to apply to law school”, a marked increase from the prior year. National Jurist, Mike Stetz, ‘The Trump Bump continues’, 2/26/19. Available here.

Jeff Thomas, Executive Director of Kaplan’s pre-law programs, commented: “We’ve seen significant jumps in both LSAT takers and law school applications over the past admissions cycle, which has fueled speculation about how much impact, if any, the 2016 election and subsequent political climate has had on this year’s law school admissions landscape. We now have an answer: It’s significant. The bump is real.” Kaplan Press Release, ‘Kaplan Test Prep Survey: Over 30 Percent of Pre-Law Students Say the Results of the 2016 Election Impacted Their Decision to Apply to Law School’, 2/22/18. Available here.

In fact, nearly one third of the pre-law students surveyed (32 percent) said the results of the 2016 election impacted their decision to become lawyers. Id.

According to the Kaplan Test Prep’s 2018 law school admissions officers survey, 87 percent of 121 law school admissions departments which were surveyed by phone reported that the current political climate in the U.S. was a significant factor in the increase in law school applications. This includes 30 percent who describe it as a “very significant” factor. Kaplan Press Release, ‘Kaplan Test Prep Survey: Nearly 90 Percent of Law Schools Say the Political Climate Was a Significant Factor in Application Increase’, 2/25/19. Available here.
Interestingly, the recent increase in law school applications is principally driven by women. “As recently as 2013, women were still a minority among applicants to U.S. law schools. This year they accounted for 55%. So U.S. law schools will for at least the next few years be churning out more smart, politically engaged, probably left-leaning lawyers, most of them women.” Gender and the Law Prof Blog, Tracy Thomas, ‘The Trump Bump Sees More Women Going to Law School’, 9/17/19. Available here.

Thus, the historical interplay between the country’s political landscape and the legal profession continues. “Law schools can seize this moment and, like the generation inspired by Woodward and Bernstein to pursue careers in journalism, lead the renaissance in legal education that would revive a profession in need of an injection of youth, idealism, and high-tech savvy.” Nicolas W. Allard, former Dean of Brooklyn Law School. TaxProfBlog, Paul Caron, ‘Brooklyn Dean: Donald Trump Is Causing A Legal Education Renaissance, Just As Woodward & Bernstein Inspired A Generation To Pursue Journalism Careers’, 2/25/17. Available here.

Anecdotally, law school career services professionals have likewise told me that current law students are expressing increased interest in careers in government and public interest. Recent graduate employment outcomes at Pitt Law and Duquesne law bear this out. For the Class of 2017, approximately 11 percent of the employed law school graduates from both Pitt and Duquesne obtained post graduate positions in government and public interest. In 2018, both the raw number and percentage of employed Pitt Law and Duquesne Law graduates working in government and public interest rose significantly. For the Class of 2018, 19.8 percent of the employed law school graduates at Pitt and 19.2 percent of those at Duquesne were working in such roles. While these graduate employment trends may not be attributable to a “Trump bump,” it is nonetheless reassuring that so many of our local law school graduates are pursuing legal careers in service to the common good.

I welcome hearing your thoughts about this message, so please do contact me at or 412-648-2359.

All my best, Lori.